By Ben Chacko
This spring has been a triumphant one for Chinese diplomacy, from the breakthrough in Iran-Saudi relations to Friday’s high-profile summit with Brazilian President Lula. Lula’s remarks on moving away from trade in US dollars show Chinese President Xi Jinping’s description of China and Brazil as “comprehensive strategic partners” has real content.
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has accused China of wanting to “reshape the world order.” What he doesn’t say is that this aspiration is shared by a majority of global South countries, as Lula makes clear. Why shouldn’t it be? The “world order” Britain vows to protect has trapped most countries in poverty, debt and underdevelopment.
Corporate trade treaties dictated by the United States and the old imperial powers of Europe have perpetuated Western economic dominance long after the end of formal empire. The terms of loans from the International Monetary Fund have forced countries to adopt privatisation, deregulation and foreign “investment” that ensures the bulk of the wealth produced in them flows to giant transnational firms with their headquarters in London or New York.
The rules of the “rules-based international order” US, EU and British leaders claim to uphold have been set by the West: other countries are simply expected to comply. It adds insult to injury that the US and its allies flout their own “rules” whenever they wish, from the supposedly pro-free trade US’s illegal blockade of Cuba, through its routine use of drones to kill people it dislikes to the final and ultimate weapon of war itself, visited on countries that were never a threat to the US such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The challenge to this world order does not just come from China, though as the US’s only economic and technological “peer competitor” it is unthinkable without China.
The weakening authority of the US is clear. Its bid to isolate the Russian economy after the invasion of Ukraine last year has only been joined by its closest allies: the vast majority of countries have refused to participate in sanctions.
Not only have the refuseniks included giant developing countries like Brazil and India — the latter key to US strategies for encircling China — but the US effort to force its Middle Eastern allies to comply has totally backfired, seeing Saudi Arabia talk of joining the Brics alliance of developing countries.
The price of loyalty to a declining US is rising even for Nato powers. French President Emmanuel Macron’s warning against Europe being dragged into US agendas in the Far East stems from awareness that sanctions on Russia are crippling European economies.
German manufacturing is being offshored to the US, where energy prices are far lower. Runaway inflation is provoking serious social unrest across Europe. And mutually beneficial trade across Eurasia is being cut off.
Macron, facing a people’s revolt over raising the retirement age, wonders how much more pain European governments can inflict on their peoples in the name of shoring up US supremacy. His realism has prompted a furious backlash from Atlanticist hawks parroting Washington’s attack lines. But the question he posed should be put here too. There is no need for British warships to patrol the China seas. Our engorged “defence” budget is swallowing up money that could be used to give public servants a proper pay rise.
And our stance is isolating us. Most countries are opposed to the US’s attempt to strangle Chinese trade and the sanctions on Russia. Most countries are keen to see global institutions reformed so developing countries have a bigger say.
The Lula-Xi summit is the shape of the future. Britain’s left should welcome the opportunities China’s rise presents to make the world a fairer place — and challenge a cross-party consensus that we should defend the unjust and exploitative US-led “world order” at all costs. (IPA Service)